Johannesburg - How many times have you imagined what it would be like to have a street-legal 450cc motocrosser? Well, imagine no more; Honda has built one.
This, dirt-riding fans, is the CRF450L - and yes, Cyril, the L stands for Legal, because it is basically a Honda CRF450R motocross machine with lights, a side-stand and a hooter.
OK, it’s not that simple; motocrossers are built to run for 20 minutes and one lap at a time on gnarly dirt circuits where instant acceleration out of slow corners is what wins races. Hence they have high-revving engines with very little flywheel effect and short overall gearing - exactly the opposite of what’s needed for highway cruising, so Honda has had to make some compromises.
All the things that make it great fun off-road also make it really useful around town - narrow and nimble, with supple suspension and explosive acceleration. But race-level performance brings with it an intensive maintenance schedule, which is simply too much for many weekend trail riders, who just want to push a button and go - and street-bikes have to be Euro4-compliant, which Honda’s flagship off-road rocket definitely isn’t.
So Honda started right at the beginning, with the CRF450’s crankshaft, giving it heavier flywheels to provide 13 percent greater inertia for smoother running, especially at low revs. Bore and stroke are unchanged at 96 x 62.1mm, but there’s a new piston with three rings rather than two and a lower crown to reduce the bike’s compression ratio from 13.5:1 to a less stressful 12.0:1.
Valve timing has also been revised for a broader, smoother spread of power and torque and the gearbox now has six speeds rather than five, and a taller final drive for more relaxed open-road riding.
The battery is a bit bigger, and the alternator has been uprated to keep it amped up while running slowly in heavy traffic.
The fuel-injection system has a revised airbox and a lambda sensor to help the bike stay on the right side of the Pollution Police, together with a large-volume single exhaust system, complete with air-injection to clean up the spent gases, in place of the racer’s short-’n-nasty dual pipes.
All of which gives you an accessible, usable 18.4kW and 32Nm - but this is still a motocross bike. You’ll have to change the oil and oil filter, and clean and re-oil the air-filter element, every 1000km, and the engine will need a major stripdown every 32 000km.
Less work was needed to streeterise the frame and running gear: the tapered dual-spar aluminium beam frame is slightly wider at the swingarm pivot points, to allow for the wider six-speed gearbox, there’s a steering lock in the headstock, and the rear subframe has new tabs for the tail-light and the single kezorst.
Rake and trail are stretched to 28.5 degrees and 122mm for more stability, increasing the wheelbase by 18mm to 1500mm, and suspension is by 49mm Showa upside-downies, adjustable for preload plus compression damping, in front, and a fully adjustable Showa rear shock
The front wheel is a 21 incher but the back wheel has been reduced from 19 to 18 inches to give customers a wider choice of street legal dual-purpose tyres, and it now has a cush drive for smoother running at steady speeds - something motocrossers are rarely guilty of.
Finally, the R has 6.3 litre titanium fuel tank; the L ups that to 7.6 litres, with a locking fuel cap (which says more about society than it does about the bike) while the plastics are the same as the R except for slightly wider shrouds over a bigger radiator with an electric fan. All the lighting is LED.
The CRF450L will be released in South Africa during the fourth quarter of 2018. Pricing, as always, when they get here.